Samantha Norman was interviewed by Harriet
H: Hi Samantha – thanks for agreeing to answer some questions. I very much enjoyed Winter Siege, and wondered if you could say something about the circumstances of your agreeing to finish the novel after your mother sadly died?
S: When Mum died unexpectedly, nearly four years ago now, she was half way through a novel. She’d always nagged me to write, as for some reason she thought I was a novelist in the making; so when it transpired that there was this unfinished work it seemed like the right thing to do to step in. She would have hated anyone else touching it and, besides, my writing style is quite like hers.
H: I thought the novel read very smoothly – I’m curious to know how much of the MS was actually in existence when you took it over, and how much of the complete plot was already sketched out?
S: At first I thought I was just going to have to write a couple of nice rounding off chapters but actually I had to write a good half a novel, which was a completely different prospect and rather terrifying. Unusually for Mum – who was quite vocal in her opinion that novelists who didn’t plot in advance were amateurish – she hadn’t left any notes or plotlines that I could find. Knowing my mother there must be some somewhere but no amount of trawling through her computer or notebooks could find them.
H: Your mother was celebrated for her wonderful historical accuracy. In Winter Siege too there are many details about daily life, and warfare, that seemed to me spot on. How much research did you have to do on all this, and how did you go about it?
S: The research was the most frightening part but also the most enjoyable. Mum was an expert in medieval history, she’d been researching it for about 40 years – all I knew about it was what I’d picked up from her novels so I had to do a mad crash course. I threw money at the problem and joined the London Library and read as many books as I could get my hands on.
H: It strikes me that in the novels I have read, your mother shows great interest in the position of women at this very early period, and Winter Siege is no exception. Was this something she used to talk about with you?
S: Mum was an ardent feminist, which is something she passed on to me and my sister, and was very disturbed about how many women had been written out of history. During the middle ages, history was predominantly written by men, therefore women didn’t figure very much in it and I think she wanted to redress the balance. Throughout her work there was always a strong female character – in Winter Siege there are several.
H: Finally, I wonder if there are any more Ariana Franklin (or Diana Norman) books in the offing? Did you enjoy the experience enough to want to go on? Or are you likely to branch out on your own?
S: I loved doing it. Firstly because it meant that I didn’t have to let go of my Mum quite yet and was still able to have some sort of dialogue with her and secondly because I discovered I loved Mediaeval history and writing fiction. At the moment I’m writing a Mistress of The Art of Death book, continuing the series she left unfinished.
H: Looking forward to that very much. Thanks, Samantha.
Winter Siege is reviewed here.
Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman, Winter Siege (Bantam Press, London: 2014). 978-0593070611, 368 pp., hardback.
Harriet is one of the Shiny New Books editors.